Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mushrooms, Asparagus, and "Chicken" En Croute with Creamy Dijon Mustard Sauce

About a year ago, amidst the buzz about the film Julie and Julia, there was a news item about Julia Child's former home, in Cambridge, having been sold to a vegetarian family. This provoked the predictable masturbatory mini-eruption in the foodie blogosphere viz. the "sacrilege" of herbivorous meals being cooked on the site of so many years of wanton, "gourmet cuisine."

Personally, I found it rather delightful - especially when I read that the current residents have a painting of a cow in the kitchen, with the legend, “Nobody says when I grow up I want to be a hamburger" - and agreed with one vegetarian blogger that it seemed like a matter of some long overdue good karma for a place that had basically been an abattoir for 40+ years.

Fast forward to a recent afternoon when, hiding in our air-conditioned bedroom from yet more witheringly hot, humid weather, we came across an old rerun of Julia Child's original PBS program, The French Chef. This particular installment was called "Meatloaf Masquerade" (I know, you're getting a visual; just close your eyes for a minute and it will pass), and featured Julia babbling away about the wonders of pate en croute.

Now, let me just say that this episode was nothing short of a complete gorefest. I'm not even going to  try to remember how many kinds of dead animals and their various effluvia were involved in making this…this thing, but suffice to say that veal, pork, eggs, butter, cream, and a hitherto-unheard-of quantity of lard were all in evidence. And that was before she started making the puff pastry, which featured over a pound of fat, in the form of butter and lard. (LARD!) As ever, one is not merely amazed that the woman lived to be 92 years old, but that she didn't keel over with a massive coronary at the end of each episode, and that her signature send-off wasn't "Call 911!"

Be that as it may, like many vegans I know, my first reaction to seeing something like this is, "Eeeww, is she kidding?!" followed swiftly by, "I wonder how I could make that not disgusting?" Even if I wasn't too lazy/inept to make puff pastry from scratch, the weather we've been having renders anything that calls for cold margarine an unlikely prospect, but it had recently come to my attention that several frozen brands are vegan, including Pepperidge Farms. So it was that a few weeks later, I had some lovely asparagus that which I thought would be even lovelier en croute. I wanted something less "meaty" than a pate-style filling, so I marinated some soy curls, sautéed onions and mushrooms with the asparagus, thickened it up a bit, tucked the whole business inside a blanket of pastry, and baked it.

The result was so good - and looked so fancy, even though it was really very simple - that I can hardly wait to put all kinds of things in puff pastry, especially when autumn comes around. As Julia would say (albeit after suggesting I kill something and stuff it in there, tout de suite): Bon Appetit!

Mushrooms, Asparagus and "Chicken" En Croute
The Soy Curls
~ 1 cup soy curls
~ 1 cup "no chicken" broth
~ 1 tsp. tarragon
~ 1/2 tsp. each: salt, rosemary, parsley
~ A few generous grinds of black pepper

~ In a beaker, combine the broth and seasonings, then add the soy curls.
~ Cover and bring to a boil in the microwave, or in a pot on the stove top.
~ Allow to sit, covered, for at least 30 minutes (the longer the better).

The Other Stuff
~ 2 tbsp. vegan margarine (we use Earth Balance)
~ 1 cup chopped onion
~ 2 cups each: sliced mushrooms, chopped asparagus (1/2" pieces)
~ 1/4 cup dry white wine
~ 1 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 cup grated cheddar flavor Daiya (or other vegan cheese)

~ 1 package frozen puff pastry, thawed according to package directions (this will be two sheets, enough for two separate "loaves").

~ In a large skillet, melt the margarine, and saute the onion over medium heat 5 minutes.
~ Add the mushrooms and cook another 5 minutes, until they have released most of their moisture.
~ Add the asparagus, and cook another few minutes, until bright green.
~ Pour in the white wine and stir to deglaze, scraping up any bits that may be stuck to the pan.
~ Add the marinated soy curls (including any unabsorbed marinade), the soy milk, and cheese, then cook until thickened; about 5 minutes.
~ Taste for seasonings, then remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature.

The Assembly
~ Preheat the oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit.
~ On a large, greased baking sheet, lay the puff pastry flat, and spoon half the filling along the center of each sheet.
~ Fold the edges over, and crimp along the edges to form a seal. With a sharp knife, make three 2" slashes along the top of each loaf.
~ Bake at 425 for 5 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 and bake another 15-20 minutes, until puffed and golden brown.
~ Allow to cool about 5-10 minutes. This is great cut into squares as an appetizer, or in big slices as an entree, with a green salad and, if you're so inclined...

Creamy Dijon Mustard Sauce
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
~ 1/2 cup dry white wine
~ 1/2 tsp. salt
~ 2 tbsp. dijon mustard
~ 1 cup vegetable broth
~ Fresh black pepper to taste
~ 1 cup plain, unsweetened soy milk
~ 1 tsp. corn starch

~ In a saucepan, heat the olive oil, and saute the garlic over medium heat, about 2 minutes.
~ Pour in the wine, and cook a few minutes more.
~ Add the salt, mustard, vegetable broth, and pepper, and cook about 5 minutes.
~ In a separate bowl, combine the soy milk and corn starch, whisk thoroughly, and pour into the saucepan.
~ Raise the heat to high, and cook about 5 minutes more, stirring with a whisk, until thickened.

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